News / Asia

S. Korean Rebellion Plot Turns Spotlight on Spy Agency

Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
On September 4, South Korea's parliament for the first time voted to prosecute one of its lawmakers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in favor of North Korea. The lawmaker and the North Koreans are denying the allegation and instead accusing South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, of fabricating it for political purposes. 
Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) last week arrested Lee Seok-ki and three other members of his Unified Progressive Party for treason and violating the National Security Law.
The NIS alleges they plotted an armed rebellion against their own country in the event of war with North Korea.
South Korean media say the group, known as the Revolutionary Organization, planned to steal weapons and attack oil and communication facilities.
Korea's National Assembly, for the first time, voted to strip Lee of his parliamentary immunity, and the ruling Saenuri party of President Park Geun-hye is calling for his expulsion.
North Korea's state media on Sunday rejected any link between the South Korean lawmaker and Pyongyang, describing the charges as a “farce” to spoil improving relations between the two Koreas.
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the case is historic.
He said there were some cases in the past related to plotting rebellion, but there has never been a case where an incumbent lawmaker was accused of plotting rebellion.  Such a case happening these days, he said, seems almost impossible.
It is not the first time that Lee Seok-ki has been arrested for subversion related to North Korea.  
A decade ago he was jailed for participating in an underground political party accused of having links with Pyongyang.  Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but received a presidential pardon.
His UPP is a small, left-wing party with only six of 298 seats in parliament.  But some of its rhetoric leads many to believe they are more than just sympathetic to North Korea.
The party is one of the most outspoken advocates of removing the United States military presence from South Korea, despite the security assurance it provides against possible attacks from the North.  And even though Pyongyang routinely threatens Washington and Seoul, Lee has been quoted in South Korean media saying it is the U.S., not North Korea, creating tensions on the peninsula.
However, the South Korean lawmaker denies the rebellion charges.  
He said the clock of South Korea’s democracy has stopped as of today...The politics of South Korea is missing, he added, and the politics of the National Intelligence Service has begun.  He said his Unified Progressive Party will trust South Korean citizens and strongly fight to protect democracy.
Lee and the UPP accuse the NIS and conservatives of leading a “witch hunt” to distract attention from a scandal over last year's presidential election. 
Former director Won Sei-hoon is on trial accused of ordering NIS agents to post comments online against liberal candidates and praising conservative ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency.
Hundreds of Koreans have gathered in recent months for candlelit protests against NIS abuses, and calling for the spy agency to be reformed.
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the fact that the NIS was involved in wrongdoing or illegal activities cannot be denied. Lee’s case happened while people were pointing out the NIS’s wrongdoings.  He said the crime of plotting rebellion was applied to Lee, but he is not sure if it really is plotting rebellion.  He added that he considers it suspicious whether or not there is a case.
South Korea's spy agency and conservative governments have a history of arresting and punishing left-wing opponents, sometimes in concert, under the pretense of suppressing communism and pro-Pyongyang groups.
South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, established the 1948 National Security Law to halt the spread of communism, but also used it to arrest thousands of people, many of them student activists.
The National Security law is criticized for suppressing freedom of speech and association, making it illegal to praise North Korea or contact any of its agents without permission.
South Korea also blocks pro-North Korea websites and arrests distributors of propaganda, including those who re-send links through Twitter.
Defenders of the harsh laws say they are necessary because of the continuing threat posed by North Korea.  
Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center, a think tank in Seoul, said the National Security Law of South Korea is the same as the Patriot Act in the United States.  Since South Korea and North Korea stand face to face, he said, South Korea needs a special law for the crimes related to spying, rebellion and incursion.  
South Korea has thwarted assassination plots by North Korean agents over the years. In more recent times, the NIS has arrested South Koreans accused of helping the North carry out cyber attacks.
The NIS declined an interview request from VOA saying they are not commenting on Lee's case.
South Korea's main liberal opposition, the Democratic Party, supported removing Lee's immunity.  But it also warned conservatives not to turn the case against Lee into a campaign to root out alleged communists.

VOA Seoul bureau's Youmi Kim also contributed to this report

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs